Nanzen-ji was founded in the middle Heian period. Nanzen-ji is not itself considered one of the "five great Zen temples of Kyoto"; however, it does play an important role in the "Five Mountain System" which was modified from Chinese roots. Tenryū-ji(天龍寺,Tenryū-ji?) is considered to be one of the so-called Kyoto Gozan(京都五山,Kyōto gozan?) or "five great Zen temples of Kyoto", along with Shōkoku-ji(相国寺,Shōkoku-ji?), Kennin-ji(建仁寺,Kennin-ji?), Tōfuku-ji(東福寺,Tōfuku-ji?), and Manju-ji(満寿寺,Manju-ji?). The head temple presiding over the Gozan in Kyoto is Nanzen-ji. After the completion of Shōkoku-ji by Ashikaga Yoshimitsu in 1386, a new ranking system was created with Nanzen-ji at the top and in a class of its own. Nanzen-ji had the title of "First Temple of The Land" and played a supervising role.
In the year 1410 a Zen Buddhist monk from Nanzen-ji, a large temple complex in the Japanese capital of Kyoto, wrote out a landscape poem and had a painting done of the scene described by the poem. Then, following the prevailing custom of his day, he gathered responses to the images by asking prominent fellow monks and government officials to inscribe it, thereby creating a shigajiku poem and painting scroll. Such scrolls emerged as a preeminent form of elite Japanese culture in the last two decades of the fourteenth century, a golden age in the phenomenon now known as Japanese Zen culture.